Any Uganda Cranes manager is always expected to win the regional Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup. Johnny McKinstry ticked that box last year.
Now, since Serbian Micho Sredojevic (now Zambia head coach) led Uganda to its first Afcon finals in four decades at the Gabon 2017 edition, expectations also shifted.
From a country that relied on complicated calculus to speculate on chances of qualification, to one that has now played at two successive Afcon finals, the last under Frenchman Sebastien Desabre in June/July last year.
The nation now basks in taking qualification to the biannual competition for granted.
And, today, Uganda Cranes see the unusual possibility of flying from Nairobi to Cameroon in just 90 minutes – in footballing terms.
Today, victory over South Sudan, who went down to a Halid Lwaliwa 85th minute headed winner at St Mary’s Stadium, Kitende, last Thursday, will confirm Uganda’s slot at the Cameroon edition to be played in 2022.
If it happens, it will be Uganda’s third successive finals.
Qualification in 2016 for the the following year’s edition was confirmed on the final day, Egypt 2019 with one game to spare, and this could be with two matches in hand.
But make no mistake, it will not be a walk in the park for the Cranes as showed at Kitende when the Tito Okello-inspired Bright Stars of South Sudan put up a spirited fight.
“It’s now nine or 10 games when they have lost, won or drawn by only a one-goal margin,” McKinstry said of South Sudan.
“That is clear evidence that South Sudan are a robust and resilient team.”
Another tough game
The Cranes struggled to break down the visitors until Joseph Ochaya – who sits out this one in Nairobi because of a suspension – drew a foul for Lwaliwa to head in the winner from Faruku Miya’s free kick.
“We expect another tough encounter (in Nairobi), which is gonna take another 95 minutes or so of intense work rate in order to get the result we want,” added McKinstry.
The Northern Irishman, who is eying his first Afcon finals as coach, is expected to make changes from the team that started last week.
“Energy levels are still important in the second game,” admitted McKinstry.
“Players left everything on the field (last week). Whilst, yes, a number of players today will start the game in Kenya, also we want to put fresh legs.”
Skipper Denis Onyango is usually the first name on the team sheet and that is not expected to change.
With Ochaya out, and Alex Kakuba missing after testing positive for Covid-19 in Portugal, Vipers Disan Galiwango is odds on to start at left back.
Lwaliwa, who replaced injured Ronald Mukiibi on Thursday, could not have emphasised his credentials to start today better. He could join Timothy Awany in central defence.
Elvis Bwomono, who made his national debut last week, will have to show he still has his energy up or Nicholas Wadada will be ready to roll.
Mike Azira and Khalid Aucho should continue in the middle with Faruku Miya ahead of them.
Emmanuel Okwi showed signs of tear and wear up top and it would be no surprise if McKinstry handed Fahad Bayo a lead role today.
Derrick Nsibambi and Kizito Luwagga did grow into the game last week although with no much breakthrough, but they are likely to continue.